Daily Archives: April 14, 2013

National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Verbal and Psychological Abuse

Child Abuse Can Be Prevented

Child Abuse Can Be Prevented

“You’re nothing.”  ”You’re useless.”  ”You’re shit.”  ”Can’t you do anything right?”  ’Well if you don’t know, I’m certainly not going to tell you.”  ”You couldn’t find your ass with both hands and a flashlight.  (laughter)”  ”You’re too sensitive.”  ”Grow some skin/a thicker skin.”  ”Fat ass.”

Just a few of the loving epithets hurled at me daily.  I never did grow that “thicker skin,” so I always dissolved in tears and ran out the door, if the weather was good, or up to my room to hide under the covers while the rage downstairs continued with slamming cupboard doors and curses muttered and shouted in mounting fury.

I know what it’s like to go on tiptoe, to see what the “mom weather” is like at the moment, and how to disappear quickly.

I know how to appease the rabid beast, by bringing bribes of flowers and candy and “I love you” handmade cards.

I know how to avert the armageddon, at least temporarily, by making a surprise dinner (although since I allegedly did not know how to do dishes, and this was a thing so simple that any idiot could do it and therefore I should not need to be taught, unless of course I was an idiot, dinner could be a shark tank).

I know how to have suicidal fantasies.  In fact, I know how to commit suicide.  I just haven’t done it.  Yet.

I know how to get straight “A’s” in school in order to please her.

I know how to get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Doctor of Medicine degree, to please her.

I know how to run away from home, when the pain got too much:  first, at age 16, to the other side of the country; and later, at age 50, to the other side of the world.  Both helped for a while.

And yet: and yet….even now, when she is 86 years old and I have dragged myself out of my personal heaven in Jerusalem to help her, one word, one look, and I am that terrified child, nauseated, shaking with terror and homicidal rage.

I have touched her twice: once when I was 16 and she had seized hold of me when I was doing the dishes wrong…I grabbed her by the wrists, wrenching her clawing hands off of me and pinning her against the wall of the kitchen.  She spit, struggled, kicked at me, but I held her till she went still and met my eyes.  I could feel my eyes burning into hers and knew I had won that round, the first and the only.  I threw myself away from her and ran out the back door, not daring to come in until after dark and my father was home.

The second time happened only a few years ago.  We were sitting at the dining room table.  I don’t remember what set her off, but she grabbed my forearm with her claws, and I grabbed her wrist and ripped it off my arm and threw it away from me.  She continued as if nothing had happened.  I desperately wanted to pound her into mush, but I swallowed my rage and pretended there was nothing wrong.  Nothing at all.

Maybe I am thinking of these things, not only because of my Child Abuse series, but because the anniversary of my last failed relationship is coming up.

My psychologist, who I have known for ten years (and perhaps more importantly, has known ME for ten years) and who has seen me through a number of relationships, tells me that a healthy man would not feel right to me because I don’t know what a healthy relationship is.  At first gasp that seems like a negative thing to say, doesn’t it?  But really it’s quite true.  I grew up with a harpy for a mother, and a father who, although I love him dearly, was quite content to step aside and let the chips fall where they might, and hand me his handkerchief afterwards to dry my tears, making excuses for my mother:  she had her period, she was having a hard day, blah blah blah.

Years later when I was in my Pediatrics residency there were posters everywhere that showed a little girl curled up in a corner crying, and a caption that said, “Words can hit harder than a fist.”  I remember looking at those posters, puzzled, wondering what that could mean.  Words can hit harder than a fist.  I actually did not understand the meaning of those words.  In fact, it was not until recently, 25 years later, that the meaning dawned on me.  Verbal abuse can be more damaging than physical abuse.  And I realized why it has taken all these years for me to “get it”:  PTSD.  It was just too traumatic to let into my psyche at that time.  I was not in a safe place, and I had not had the distance from my abuser that would allow me to process that statement: Words can hit harder than a fist.

I am lumping verbal and psychological abuse together for now, because I cannot parse them out.  There are certainly other psychological ways of abusing children (and adults), but from where I am standing at this moment they seem all tangled up together, verbal and psychological and emotional.  I plan to work on this over the next few days and see if I can untangle them, and be more clear.

I know what it is to be confused.


When I started writing this blog back in 2010 I made it clear that I was no whippet – thin racing cyclist riding the most stylish racing bike money can buy.

I ride a touring bike with panniers carrying a cumbersome bike lock around with me wherever I go.

Racing cyclists are a skinny bunch who have to monitor their diet very closely so as to maximise the amount of watts of energy they can squeeze out of their bodies.  When the elite British rider Victoria Pendleton retired after the London Olympics she expressed relief at no longer having to live on a diet of grilled chicken.

Self – confessed drug cheat Bjarne Riis, ‘winner’ of the 1996 Tour de France was easily recognisable in the peleton thanks to his skeletal appearance.  One drug he certainly wasn’t taking was Quetiapine (Seroquel).  This Atypical Anti – Psychotic boasts weight gain as one of its most common side effects.  I should know – I take 300mgs of the stuff every night. 

My involvement with mental health dates back to when I was a teenager, 14 or 15 years old. I was in love with a girl from the Western Isles (for those of you who don’t come from these Islands they’re off the north west coast of Scotland.) So remote was the island she lived on that she had to take a boat to school to Oban, a larger island.

We used to write to each other (letters – this was long, long before the world wide web.) I remember being frustrated that she didn’t reply for ages. She was very, very thin and I was vaguely aware that this was a problem.

Fast forward to my first (of several) visits to her on a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital in south London. I remember her lying  in bed in her own room.  I couldn’t understand why she didn’t respond more quickly to my letters – she had all this time on her hands. The patients with bandaged wrists I saw on the ward didn’t seem ill to me. I recognise now that my perception of her situation was as distorted as her own view of herself – seeing not a dangerously under weight person, but a person who looked over weight and ugly, too.

The years went by, we lost touch; some time ago I heard that she has made a career as a singer.

Those infrequent letters and the hospital visits were my first exposure to someone with serious mental health problems. They provoked feelings of frustration, impatience and incomprehension in my adolescent self.  But those early experiences also taught me that people I thought were ‘normal’, with no reason to be ‘troubled’ were real people – with personalities that were separate from their – considerable – mental health problems.  Those feelings I had then have stood me in good stead when talking to friends and families of people with mental health problems about what their loved on may be experiencing.  It is frustrating not knowing why someone cannot get out of bed in the morning, has no desire for company, takes no interest in things they once enjoyed.  And the longer these symptoms go on the more impatient one can become. It’s important to recognise these reactions; they are important. It’s worth recognising that while we are quick to recognise that the perceptions of some people with mental health problems are distorted, some of ours are, too.

From here we can begin to understand.

Girl from the North Country

If you’re traveling in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she was once a true love of mine.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see for me if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

Please see from me if her hair hanging down
If it curls and flows all down her breast
Please see from me if her hair hanging down
That’s the way I remember her best.

Well, if you’re traveling in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Please say hello to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.

If you’re travelin’ in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.

Bob Dylan (1941 – )

Welcome to Bipolar.Bits!

No two bipolar sufferers experience exactly the same symptoms … but we do share similarities — suicidal thoughts, feelings of uselessness, and those horrible cycles of mania and depression (which are so different for all of us). In many ways, the world views us, and wants to “deal with us,” as a single, simple “type” — a one-dimensional collection of symptoms and outcomes described in textbooks. It can be so frustrating to convey to those trying to help us that what we experience and what we perceive is totally unique to us as individuals. Bipolar.Bits is a place where sufferers are encouraged to share our personal experiences with our symptoms, with the treatments we have tried, and with our journey through all of this. Bipolar.Bits is also a place for families, loved ones, treatment providers and professionals to gain a better understanding of the actual experiences of “bipolars” — beyond the descriptions in textbooks and diagnostic manuals, beyond the second-hand stories and lore passed down in break-rooms and at conferences. This is a place for sharing, learning, expressing, and asking questions. Welcome!

(Anxiety) Attaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Yesterday, my anxiety was spiking pretty severely. Everything started to get brighter and louder and more intense, and I opted to flee to my bedroom to hide out. I’m not one to spend time in my bedroom besides sleeping, but everything felt like it was getting on top of me. I picked up my book and read for a few minutes, and satisfied that I was feeling calmer, wandered back through to continue working through my blogs.

blamSo of course, the second I sat down and started pecking out words, the intense pressure resumed. It wasn’t more than a minute or two before I fled again, this time with my netbook in tow (if I don’t spend time hanging out in my bedroom, I doubly do not spend time hanging out in there with a computer). I ended up having to immediately flee to the lounge because my kiddo needed the bedroom, but then my husband rounded her up and took her somewhere else, leaving me in relative silence.

It didn’t occur to me until a few hours later, but I had narrowly avoided a panic/anxiety attack. I am fortunate in that I rarely have them; the last one was quite possibly over a year ago now. They’re so infrequent that I forgot what the deal is until the sensation of heart attack starts thumping in my breast… not that it passing ‘quickly’ ever made me feel any better. But all the signs were pointing in the right direction, and it would have taken very little additional anxiety to tip it over.

Having said that, I suspect one might get me today. Already, my heart is racing and there is absolutely nothing going on to trigger it. But as those of you who also have anxiety or bipolar issues know, the act of your body being in such an elevated state is incredibly taxing; it leaves very little in the way of spoons for fending off subsequent onslaughts. So cross your fingers for me that I’ll make it through today and that tomorrow will be less jagged, and I’ll cross my fingers for you guys out there. Deal? Deal!


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